Did you know that Sacramento is the capital of California? Not many people know that since it’s significantly smaller than Los Angeles or San Francisco. Despite that, Sacramento is a beautiful combination of a dazzling nature and attractive sights. From historic locations like the Railroad Museum to the amazing Zoo with fantastic animals, you’ll love this city.
But what if you want to leave Sacramento for a day? If you have sufficient time only for a short getaway, these are the best destinations to visit!
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1. Lake Tahoe
Distance: 109 miles / approximately 2 hours of drive
You’re surely familiar with Lake Tahoe since it’s a popular tourist destination. Even if you’ve already visited it before, it’s an excellent location for a daily visit. If you love skiing, Squaw Valley offers about 4,000 acres of terrain suitable for skiing. Another impressive destination is the Heavenly Ski Resort & Gondola. Make sure to try the aerial tram that accepts 50 passengers, and if you are a snowboarder, you’ll love the two parks at the resort.
As for the lake, you can head parasailing, gran a jet ski, or try a paddleboard. Beach and summer lovers will be delighted with Kings Beach. It’s among the biggest in the region, and you can even enjoy picnicking in the area specially designed for that.
2. Yosemite National Park
Distance: 170 miles / approximately 3 hours of drive
If you are a California resident, the odds are you’ve been to Yosemite National Park at least once. But if it has been a while since the last visit, you could grab a day to head to this natural wonder again.
You’ll find that Yosemite offers numerous hiking trails and a chance to enjoy its fantastic nature. The ancient sequoias are dazzling, and Half Dome and El Capitan cliffs will also impress you. The odds are you’ll take many pictures. If you are a professional, this is the perfect setting. Once you get tired from walking around the park, you can enjoy numerous restaurants and cafes.
3. Mendocino National Forest
Distance: 132 miles / approximately 2.5 hours of drive
Mendocino National Forest is fairly close to Yosemite, which is why it’s not as popular. However, once you visit it, you’ll see that it has a lot to offer. The beautiful thing about Mendocino is that no major road goes through it. Once you enter, you’ll be dazzled with nature that looks untouched by human civilization.
Those who come to Mendocino the first time shouldn’t miss visiting Lake Pillsbury. It’s stunning and offers a tranquil environment to relax. Apart from swimming, you can also rent a canoe and enjoy the mountain views.
Distance: 59 miles / approximately 1 hour of drive
Napa offers so much that it isn’t the perfect destination for a single-day trip. However, it’s only an hour away from Sacramento, so you can get there quickly. The most famous things in the Napa Valley are wineries and vineyards. If you are a wine fan, you’ll enjoy trying various sorts of this drink. Don’t forget to agree on who will drive back home!
You won’t need a license to climb aboard the Wine Train. It’s a moving restaurant that allows you to enjoy the views while eating high-quality meals. As for other sights, make sure to head to the Mill State Historical Park and visit the Sharpsteen Museum if you are a history lover.
Distance: 61 miles / approximately 1 hour of drive
Put a smile on your face and head to Benicia if you love outdoor activities. It’s the perfect family destination that features more than 20 parks. You can see equestrian riders, joggers, cyclists, and people enjoying their time in a natural setting.
If you have time, visit the historical landmarks in the downtown district. The Camel Barn and the Clock Tower are a must-visit, and you can even buy souvenirs and other products in antique stores nearby. Take some time to walk through the Promenade and see all those wonderful structures from the Victorian Era.
Distance: 132 miles / approximately 2 hours of drive
Reno offers a whole different experience compared to all other destinations on our list. It’s famous for its casinos and visitors from entire California come here to try roulette, poker, and other games. It’s closer to Sacramento than Las Vegas, and it offers an exciting experience without those huge crowds.
Even if you aren’t a casino player, you can have fun in Reno. The National Automobile Museum features hundreds of vintage vehicles for all car fans. The Idlewild Park offers a peaceful environment to take a stroll and relax, and you can also go Midtown for shopping. Reno makes for an all-around experience, so make sure to give it a shot during your daily trips.
7. Bodega Bay
Distance: 105.9 miles / approximately 2 hours of drive
Movie fans know that this was where The Birds movie was filmed decades ago. Alfred Hitchcock picked Bodega Bay after being inspired by a real bird attack in the area. Fortunately, the risk of this happening today is minimal. You can visit multiple attractions that remain exactly as in the movie.
Bodega Bay is where the Russian settlers build one of the first structures. Fort Ross dates back to 1809, and it’s still open to visitors. You can head to the harbor and rent a kayak or paddleboard if you enjoy watersports. Bodega Bay is also a famous fishing town, which is why anglers love visiting it.
8. Carmel By Sea
Distance: 189.9 miles / approximately 3 hours of drive
We’ll admit that Carmel By Sea isn’t the closest, so you might consider making it a weekend getaway instead of a daily trip. It’s excellent for taking the entire family since the beaches are impressive. The waves are lazy, which is perfect for children. You can visit the local aquarium to see some phenomenal species located there.
The Carmel Beach also features many bird species, so make sure to bring your binoculars. And if you head to Point Lobos, you might even be lucky enough to notice a whale!
9. Apple Hill
Distance: 48 miles / less than an hour of drive
This farm district actually belongs to Sacramento. Its history goes back to 1964 when several farmers joined to offer specialized apple ranches. As time passed, the farm number increased, and you can find over 50 of them today.
Although it’s called Apple Hill, you can come across the flower, veggie, fruit, and even Christmas Tree farms.
The Rainbow Orchards are incredibly dazzling and offer a unique treat in the form of a cinnamon-sugar cider doughnut. You can find a petting zoo that welcomes families on the Denver Dan’s Apple Patch. Whether you want to try caramel apples or take your children on a pony ride, you’ll love the Apple Hill.
Distance: 23.2 miles / approximately 30 minutes of drive
You might not have an entire day, so picking a destination close to Sacramento is imperative. Folsom fits that description since you’ll arrive there in 30 minutes.
We recommend heading downtown immediately. The historical buildings will reveal more about the city’s history. The local museum will reveal everything about how society and the town itself developed over time. If you prefer nature, Folsom Lake is right there. You can rent a paddleboat to enjoy the views or take a hike through one of the available trails.
Distance: 86.3 miles / approximately 1.5 hours of drive
We already suggested Napa as a possible destination, but we are listing Calistoga as one of the most attractive cities in the valley. Calistoga features hot springs where you can relax and get your energy batteries filled.
While you are there, visit The Castello di Amorosa. This castle will make you feel like you are in Italy, and there are a winery and a mud bath on the property. Another amazing destination is the Old Faithful Geyser. If you happen to come across during an eruption, the sight will stay in your brain forever.
Distance: 100 miles / approximately 2 hours of drive
This town with an intriguing name isn’t that popular among tourists. That’s a mistake because it has plenty to offer. If you want to know more about the region’s history, visit the Emigrant Trail Museum. After that, head for a walk through the Donner Memorial State Park, and if you have enough time, go to Donner Lake.
If you are a skier, you’ll find many ski areas over Truckee. Tahoe Donner Downhill is closer, but you can also head to the Northern California resort from here.
13. El Dorado National Forest
Distance: 56 miles / approximately 1.5 hours of drive
Is it time to escape the city rush, even if only for a day? Less than 1.5 hours of driving from Sacramento, you’ll find the El Dorado National Forest. The pine forests will impress you as they offer impressive hiking trails. Many trails lead to lakes that offer tranquility and an opportunity to relax.
The great thing about El Dorado is that it’s not the primary destination for tourists and hikers. Thanks to that, you probably won’t encounter many people, which can improve the entire experience.
14. San Jose
Distance: 120 miles / approximately 2 hours of drive
Do you imagine your day trip as a visit to an urban environment? If you don’t want parks and lakes but modern cities, head to San Jose. You can begin by visiting the Tech Museum of Innovations that even offers a theatre with IMAX technology.
If you don’t mind a scare or two, the Winchester Mystery House should be your next destination. It’s a mansion with designs that were made to keep away ghosts or keep them confused. While we are talking about the confusion, make sure you don’t come across the stairs that head to nowhere.
15. San Francisco
Distance: 87.9 miles / approximately 1.5 hours of drive
Yes, a single day might not be enough to see everything worth seeing in San Francisco. That’s why you need a good plan. If you have never been here, Golden Gate Bridge is the first stop. It’s one of the most impressive structures in the world and a must-visit if you come to San Francisco.
If you like unique tours, we suggest a visit to Alcatraz Island. This place was a controversial prison for the worst criminals decades ago. Now, if you want something different, head to Pier 39. It has everything a family needs to spend a beautiful day.
16. Empire Mine State Historic Park
Distance: 56.6 miles / approximately 1 hour of drive
As the name suggests, this park used to be a mine. Today, it’s a historic location since it seems that all the gold was pulled out over time. The estimations are that almost six million ounces of gold came from this mine.
You can learn more about the mining process in the old days but also check historical artifacts. It’s possible to tour the mine yard, but you can also focus on enjoying nature.
Distance: 33.2 miles / approximately 30 minutes of drive
In the 19th century, Auburn was among the top Gold Rush destinations. Today, it’s a small city that can offer a fun day to spend time outside of Sacramento. If you come here, start with the Old Town district. You’ll see a fire station, post office, and other structures from the Gold Rush era. The local museum features exhibits dedicated to this era, but also Chinese immigrants in the area.
The Auburn State Recreational Area features a 100-mile trail where you can participate in annual endurance runs. It’s also ideal for biking, and you can always make a stop for some wine.
It doesn’t matter if you only have a single day. You can still make a memorable trip from Sacramento to memorable destinations throughout California. We hope that our suggestions inspired you for your future journeys. Don’t forget to grab a map when planning the next daily trip. If you have enough time, you might be able to visit multiple destinations during your travel!